The headline of a recent Time Magazine story about President Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee asked, Sotomayor’s Diabetes: Will it Be a Handicap?
The authors seem to be asking whether Judge Sotomayor’s type 1 diabetes will be an impediment to her confirmation. Although many news stories about Judge Sotomayor mention that she was diagnosed with the disease at age 8, most commentators and experts believe that the disease will not negatively impact her ability to be a justice on the Supreme Court. The disease is serious, raising the risk of heart disease, blindness, amputation, and kidney problems. And yet, if well-controlled, people with diabetes can live long and productive lives. There is no reason Judge Sotomayor’s diabetes should prevent her from being qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.
The question the author is not asking is: Diabetes: Is it a Handicap?, i.e., a disability. The answer to that is, somewhat paradoxically, yes–at least for purposes of anti-discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act in effect now. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted years ago to prevent discrimination and to allow people with disabilities to participate fully in society. Yet a decade of (ironically) Supreme Court decisions that went against the clear legislative intent of the ADA meant that people with diseases like diabetes were found to be not-disabled under the law and therefore not entitled to its protection, even when employers admitted they took action against an employee solely because of his or her diabetes. Fortunately, under the recently passed Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act, the law has been strengthened so now people with diabetes are protected from discrimination.